Eline De Lepeleire (Het Firmament)

    Abstract/summary

    In 2015, Theater Antigone relocated to an office space next to its venue in Overleiestraat, Kortrijk. Following an initial selection of items, its archive was also transferred to the new office. Just before the move, the company received a further 17 boxes of archives and documentation which could no longer be stored by the VTi, now called Kunstenpunt. The entire archive was gathered together in an unstructured way in a multi-purpose area. In April 2016, with support from Het Firmament, the staff from Theater Antigone sorted through the archive and brought structure to the chaos. This was a necessary step before determining how to approach the rest of the archive items, with a view to developing a fully functional archive area and reading room.

    Status

    • Summer 2015: VTi archive boxes relocated
    • Winter 2015-2016: Theater Antigone relocated
    • April 2016: Initial organisation and placement list, with an inventory of audiovisual content
    • May 2016: Action plan drawn up

    Issue

    Motive

    Theater Antigone celebrated its 60-year anniversary in 2016, and over the years the theatre production company has created an extensive archive consisting of a huge number of photos and slides, printed materials, audiovisual content, production folders, a press archive, an archive of social arts and educational works, play scripts with annotations, etc. Alongside these unique archival items, we also found newspaper clippings organised per playwright, various magazine collections, boxes full of play scripts and other relevant publications. In short, a wealth of information which could be used in a very valuable way by Theater Antigone, provided it can be properly opened up, organised and made available. The theatre company from Kortrijk is therefore considering transforming the room where its archives and collections are currently stored into a fully functional archive and reading room. But in order for this transformation to take place, the archive items need to be extensively sorted!

    The archive and its collections had become so large after two relocations that it could have been very easy to feel discouraged by the amount of work required. The racks for storing the archives in an organised way were ready to be assembled, but the staff at Theater Antigone never had enough time to get on with it. The added motivation they needed came as a result of a survey that was sent out by Het Firmament, Kunstenpunt and PACKED vzw to gain an overview of audiovisual content in the performing arts sector. Employees at Theater Antigone knew there was an audiovisual archive, but had no idea where it actually was. So there was no other option but to open up all the boxes and look for it. This was of course also the perfect opportunity to tackle the archive as a whole. And that’s exactly what Theater Antigone did, with help from Het Firmament.

    Image 1: Theater Antigone archive BEFORE (Photo: Het Firmament)
    Image 1: Theater Antigone archive BEFORE (Photo: Het Firmament)

    Desired results

    Employees from Theater Antigone and Het Firmament set one day aside to achieve a series of results:

    • Find the audiovisual content and make an inventory
    • Identify the archive, library and collections
    • Initial intellectual and physical organisation to link associated archive items together
    • Make an overview of the identified and organised content in Excel
    • Clear up the area to create more space

    Method

    1. Identification

    We started with an initial identification process using the labels on the boxes. But because not all boxes had labels, and you never know if the labels on boxes will actually correspond with what they contain, all the boxes were opened to check their contents.

    2. Intellectual and physical organisation

    2.1 Intellectual organisation

    Based on the initial identification, we were able to start roughly dividing items into different categories. For Theater Antigone, we used the following categories:

    1. Building archive
    2. Library
    3. Educational and social arts archive
    4. Productions administration archive
    5. Archive policy
    6. Documentation
    7. Printed materials archive
    8. Production folders archive
    9. Press archive
    10. Photos archive
    11. Bookkeeping archive
    12. Audiovisual archive
    13. Posters archive
    14. Play scripts
    15. Magazines

    Each category was assigned a unique number for easy reference. This unique number was later used as a simple way to link the physical boxes, floor plan and inventory together (see below).

    This made it surprisingly easy to place boxes in the right categories. The creators of the archive – (former) Theater Antigone employees – had clearly already made efforts to keep archival documents that belong together in the same box. This ‘old order’ was maintained as much as possible. And if this order was deviated from in any way, it was properly documented so that everything would still be clear for future curators.

    2.2 Physical organisation

    Each category was allocated a separate area in the room so that boxes in the same category were physically kept together. In practice, this means of identification together with the intellectual and physical organisation largely overlapped. In order to identify the contents of certain boxes, other boxes needed to be moved out of the way. So to avoid needing to do any work twice, boxes were moved to their correct, separate, allocated area straight away.

    Mistakes can happen in the process of moving boxes, especially in such a small area, which is why it's recommended to perform an extra check after the first round.

    3. Describing the archive items with a link to the overview (in Excel), boxes and floor plan

    3.1 Creating a floor plan

    A simple floor plan was created once all the boxes had been physically put in the right place. All the boxes were included on this floor plan with an indication of the size and title of each category together with their respective unique numbers.

    Image 2: Floor plan (Photo: Het Firmament)
    Image 2: Floor plan (Photo: Het Firmament)

    3.2 Numbering boxes per category

    All categories had a number physically stuck on them in their physical location (only the category title on photos).

    Image 3: Physical categorisation (printed materials archive) (Photo: Het Firmament
    Image 3: Physical categorisation (photos archive) (Photo: Het Firmament)

    3.3 Noting basic details

    Finally, a number of basic details were noted per category:

    • Unique number: the category number
    • Location: description of the location where the category is stored with reference to the floor plan
    • Title: a brief description of the group of documents described, e.g. flyers, administration, exhibition dossier, documentation, etc.
    • Size: an indication of the size of the archived items.
    • Date: the date when the oldest and newest items within the group were included or received.
    • Condition: describes if the items appeared to be in a good or damaged condition. CD-ROMs and DVDs could not be checked, so ‘unknown’ was entered here.
    • Organisation principle: the method used to organise the documents, e.g. alphabetical, chronological, per production, etc.

    The descriptions were added to an Excel spreadsheet which is saved on the Theater Antigone server. The diagram was drawn up in accordance with this model, which you can find on TRACKS.

    4. Audiovisual archive inventory

    A side project in this process of course still needs to trace the audiovisual content and make an inventory. Following initial identification, the audiovisual content was first grouped per carrier type on a large table in the middle of the room. These carriers were then added per type (including playing time) and documented in an Excel template created by VIAA and PACKED vzw. The content description at item level will follow at a later date. 

    5. Making room in the multi-purpose area

    In order to access the archive and collections more efficiently in future, the area was cleared up and unnecessary materials removed.

    Results

    Were the desired results achieved?

    • The audiovisual content was traced and added per carrier type (including playing time).
    • The archive and collections were identified and physically placed together per category, with basic details noted. There was not enough time to study the archive items in detail and add data and organisation principles to the overview. This will still need to be done at a later date.
    • The archive area was cleared up as much as possible, but this requires further reorganisation which will be possible when the archive racks are installed.
    • The work that was done that day also made it possible for Het Firmament employees to write down a number of recommendations for dealing with the archive and collections.

    Observations and difficulties

    • The available area was too small to be able to work efficiently. It is therefore recommended to clear the area up as much as possible and remove any unnecessary materials before starting. The small area made it difficult to separate different archive items properly, and a few mistakes were made in this process. Thorough checking is therefore always essential!
    • Boxes are sometimes heavy and require physical strength to move them safely, so make sure there are always two of you to move them if necessary.
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